With about 65% of its population living in rural areas, Kutch has kept its pastoral simplicity intact with a bright diverse variety in its art and craft. Their rustic life has perhaps made their art even more profound as embroidery and other crafts have become the identity of the people here.
The roots of the craft of Kutch are not only in their rural lifestyle but also in their geography and the environment with the Gulf of Kutch in its south, Arabian Sea to its west and the northern and eastern parts being salt marshes. Culture here, is diverse and an enterprise for its people as they have kept up their art in the fierce competition of modernization and technological revolution. Some might know that the traditional wedding attire of Gujarati brides called ‘gharcholu’ is developed from the widely produced tie and dye craft of Bandhani- a craft practiced by different communities in Kutch.
Apart from Bandhani which involves the meticulous art of tying parts of cloth and dying them to find a beautiful design of circular dots on removing the thread; Ajrakh (indigo) printing, Rogan painting (oil painting on cloth), Embroidery work, Mashruwork and patchwork are the activities of vivid intricacy and creativity of the people here. However, with these handicrafts retaining some recognition, there are two art techniques which have almost been forgotten- pottery and handmade metal bells.
Pottery of Kutch which is diminishing to extinction in the present times has a legacy of more than 5000 years. The art’s origin can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Pottery is the result of the potter’s hands covered in clay turning the clay into something useful and beautiful. It involves natural resources such as clay, water, leaves of plant called ‘Jaru’ (local name), thorns and tender stems of Prosopis Julifera’, ‘white clay’ and black stone. It is something that draws a close connection between the craft and the nature-the earth.
The purity of it can be inferred not only by those who create the well-designed pots and clay-ware but also by those who collect them. In spite of using plastic products for most of our daily purposes, most of us would agree that drinking water stored in clay pots, curd from ‘kulhad’ (small earthen mugs), clay lamps and teapots have a charm that content you like nothing else. The Kutchis have adopted the earth in another artistic mode- that of mud painting (or ‘lippan kaam’).
Using mud and camel dung they decorate the walls of their houses with intricate designs and brighten it up with mirrors. Their houses are a spectacular sight which you’d like to hold on to. The people of Kutch, along-with being true to their village tradition, have also learnt to refine and modify their art to make their art a space in all parts of the society. The paintings with mud work are framed to look just as spectacular, in-fact more so with the use of colorful mirrors.
If clay can be transformed into such elaborately designed form by the Kumhaar (potters), the Lohaar (blacksmith) community of Kutch can transform iron pieces into musical bells. Making metal bells is a family activity here as the men hammer the iron into bells, the women polish it with mud and copper and powder. The process is laborious and it takes quite long to bake the bells to perfection. The heartwarming feeling one gets on listening to the tingle if these bells in the house is because we realize that these bells are made by people who might not have learnt music, the bells have no identical shape nor are any of the same size; but they create sounds that bring music in your house. How easily can we relate it to our families where diverse people with different makes all come together to bring a harmony in life!
The art of Kutch justifies the often quoted thought “All art is autobiographical” with its simple life of charm, comfort, warmth and beauty with perseverance. It transpires the same feelings to whichever home it reaches. “One eye sees and the other feels”.
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